Chicken & Cheese Stuffed Shells

When I was growing up, every Wednesday was pasta day. In fact, there was a popular commercial on television back then that proclaimed Wednesday as “Prince Spaghetti Day.” I really don’t know if mom set the weekly menu around the commercial, but for the Smith family, Wednesday was “Prince Spaghetti Day.” Every Monday we had chicken, Tuesday was meatloaf, Wednesday spaghetti and so on.

Stuffing shells might seem a little tedious, but the end result makes it worthwhile.

Wednesday was spaghetti day with the exception of once a month, when our pasta came in the form of macaroni and cheese, and my mom made the best mac and cheese in the world.

Try the dish with Smitty’s Marinara Sauce

Don’t get me wrong, my mom was a great cook and I loved everything she made. Well, most everything. I will admit, however, it was a good thing for my taste buds that my family ate late as compared to the rest of the neighborhood. Quite often I would be over one of my friend’s houses and their parents would ask if it was OK if I stayed for dinner. I would “call” home for permission, keeping my finger on the button; I never actually called home. After eating at my friend’s, I would go home and eat at my house.

I know you’re thinking that’s a lot of food. But, it wasn’t really. My parents were both school teachers and I had eight brothers and sisters — one chicken doesn’t go that far.

Those two pasta dishes were the extent of my yearly pasta intake at the Smith house with two other exceptions. Whenever any of us had a birthday, we got to choose what was for dinner that night. My little sister would always choose stuffed manicotti for her birthday and five days later, I would pick ravioli for my dinner. These two meals were awesome. Mom would make the manicotti herself to cover my sister’s dinner and go down to an Italian store that had fresh-made-that-day ravioli for me.

Pasta has remained a main staple in my diet. During the low work times, pasta was a nice cheap meal. But even in good times, pasta is one of those meals I love on a cold winter night after skiing all day or working outside.

Stuffing shells might seem a little tedious, but the end result makes it worthwhile. For this recipe, I like to use boneless, skinless thighs because I like dark meat better. It stays moister, but breast meat will work fine. You will want to bake the chicken and cool it completely before cutting and adding it to the cheese mixture.

You can go meatless and use the three-cheese mixture or dice some veggies and have a vegetarian shell. Top it with your favorite tomato sauce and a little extra mozzarella melted over the top.

No matter how you stuff them, make enough shells to freeze for another day and enjoy.

Chicken & Cheese Stuffed Shells
1 box jumbo shells, cooked al dente
4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 3 to 4 breasts
32 oz. ricotta cheese
1 lb. mozzarella cheese, ¾ diced into small pieces, ¼ sliced thin to top the shells
8 oz. fresh parmesan, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
2 t fresh nutmeg, grated
3 T fresh-cut basil
1 T fresh thyme
1 T poultry seasoning or fresh sage, finely cut
2 t butter
Salt and pepper to taste in the cheese mixture
2½ C Marina Sauce (recipe at

Season the chicken with the poultry seasoning, salt and pepper, and bake in the oven. Cool completely before cutting and adding to the cheese mixture.

Cook the shells in well-salted water leaving them a little crunchy; lay out on a plate to cool completely.

Sweat the garlic and shallot in the butter on medium heat until the shallot softens and starts turning translucent. Toss into a big bowl. Add the cheeses, nutmeg, basil and thyme and mix well.

Use a fork to separate the chicken meat into strands of pulled meat. Cut the pulled chicken pieces into 1-inch strips and add to the cheese mixture. Season with salt, pepper and any more of the other herbs or spices. Parmesan is salty so taste and mix thoroughly.

Cover the bottom of a baking dish with 1 cup of sauce. Fill the shells and place them in the pan. Top with sauce and place slices of mozzarella on top. Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until hot throughout.